The phrase “dueling pianos” conjures up different images for different generations: For those used to the Pat O. Brien’s and Little Ditty’s bars of the early 1990s, dueling pianos comprises the classics: ivory-pounding solos on “Great Balls of Fire,” raucous sing-along to Billy Joel’s ironic “Piano Man,” and even the occasional undergarment thrown onto (or taken off on) the stage from an inebriated bachelorette.
Those in more conservative circles might think of “dueling pianos” as an instrumental showdown like in the Scott Joplin movie?or a battle similar to the “Dueling banjos” of Deliverance. ?And yet others who don’t hang out in classic “dueling piano bars” like Howl at the Moon or The Shout! House have no idea what “dueling pianos” is, like this so-called act on “Britain’s Got Talent.”
While there is no official definition of “dueling pianos,” there is a wikipedia page (as well as a bunch of competing private traveling dueling piano companies) that agree on a general concept that was made popular in the early 1990s, beginning with an entertainment establishment called “Alleycats” in Dallas, used as the prototype for others like it, including the largely successful “Howl at the Moon” bar/restaurant chain.
Dueling pianos is a scenario in which two grand or baby grand pianos (don’t let your ears be fooled – only one dueling piano club in the country is known to use real pianos – the industry standard is a digital keyboard inside a piano shell) are setup across from each other, with 2 piano players. The players take song requests from the audience, and in one variation or another, “include” the audience members in the musical show, through singing, clapping, and dancing along with the songs.
Variations include “traditional” dueling pianos, where players use nothing but the pianos and microphones to create their musical sound, including sound effects, solos and beatboxing. Other “modern” interpretations of the concept include a full band setup, where at different times of the hour and evening, the piano players will be joined by musicians at a guitar, bass, drums, and sometimes even more — fiddle, keytar and trumpet. Some dueling piano shows actually include sample tracks (for example, in rap songs) or bona-fide songs, just as a DJ would have, to supplement dynamics of their show.
In Phoenix, the “dueling pianos” heyday included Little Ditty’s at Arizona center. Even over a decade after its closing, fans remember the good times that were had, despite all of the debauchery and attempts to forget them. Attempts have been made in town to match that feel, and have questionably come up short: The Big Bang on Tempe’s Mill Avenue served as a huge draw for ASU’s matriculators, helping that club evolve into a more “modern” dueling piano show, before closing its doors in 2014 and reopening this year as “Low Key Dueling Piano Bar” with many of Tempe’s staple duelers – Mike Clement, Michael Clavijo and Julie Simpson.
On the West Side, The Shout House opened with a Big Bang on Superbowl weekend 2008. Since then, dueling piano fans continue to drop by on a weekend night out or on a night pre and post-Coyote and Cardinal games. The show performed by James Brown, Don Bruener and Carl Dees offer a very “traditional” sing-along approach.
Dueling pianos has been surfacing in many other places in the valley, including Mesa’s Dana Park. The Harp Irish Pub, tucked away in the corner, about equidistant between Barnes and Noble and Guitar Center, is a live entertainment secret about to explode.
Every Friday night features a different team of dueling piano players, giving each week a new feel and flavor, and a great place to invite friends for a casual night out. Wes Ringel is an East coast native but has lived in Arizona for nearly a decade. He started AZ Dueling Pianos four years ago, with the Harp being a staple show for his team. Shortly thereafter, he was joined by Randy Keith and James Brown, dueling piano and Shout House veterans. Now the team rotates with Steve Kostakes, formerly featured at Mastro’s Ocean Club, Scott Dunlap who played for nearly 10 years at New York New York’s “Bar at Times Square,” as well as Amy Lyn Keith, dueling pianos’ best up-and coming female player.
You can catch a team of 2 of these amazing dueling piano players every Friday night at the Harp. No reservations are required, and there is no cover. Just come ready to have a good time.
Show starts 9pm, click below for RSVP:
Dueling Pianos at the Harp Irish Pub is brought to you by:
Premier Piano Shows is Arizona’s dueling pianos leading entertainment company for corporate events, weddings and holiday parties.